The advancement of the construction industry requires new thinking by pioneers willing to push the field forward through innovation. These new ideas should come from a multitude of voices that will help shape the industry’s future.
For Kelli Lubeley, BIM program manager at Cupertino Electric, Inc. (CEI), advancing the construction industry as a BIM pioneer is just another day at the office. We recently spoke with Kelli about her career journey, how technology helps her overcome professional challenges, and the advice she has for the next generation of men and women entering the construction industry. Read her story below.
Walk us through your career and what led you to become BIM program manager at Cupertino Electric.
I took an unconventional path in the industry and did not pursue a degree immediately. When I got into my mid-20s, I had already tried a few different jobs and careers. I had really enjoyed a drafting class I had taken nearly 10 years prior in high school. Because of that, I enrolled in an accelerated AutoCAD program at the local community college.
My instructor at the time helped me get a job at a local architecture firm, which was a good introduction for me to the industry. Between my job and my class, I really started to love the work and the industry. Later, my instructor asked me to teach a class for the semester while she was on sabbatical. I was surprised. She assured me that I understood the content well, had noticed me helping other students, and said I was a natural choice. That’s how I originally got into the teaching and training side of things, which I found very rewarding.
While I was teaching, Autodesk started to make their big push on Revit. I remember going to a reseller’s presentation on it and just being absolutely floored seeing this tool. My company was already looking at purchasing the AutoCAD licenses for the year, so I pitched purchasing Revit to them and they accepted. Having that Revit expertise assisted me in winning contract work during the recession, which allowed me to stay up to date in the industry when a lot of people were forced to leave.
In 2011, a company called and asked me to be a BIM manager in Dallas. They had two people already, and they needed a third to help keep all the corporate BIM operations running and assist about 200 Revit users. There, I learned a lot about standardization and best practices from the BIM managers. I would frequently travel for three or four days at a time to one of their offices and provide a Revit training course, which would help people build their skillset with the tool.
From there, I moved into working with a general contractor and doing BIM management mega projects. This involved producing micro schedules, timelines, and milestones. I used this to keep subcontractors on track for coordinating and signing off on models at the general contractor level.
I came to work at Cupertino Electric shortly after this, about three years ago. CEI is a national electrical engineering and construction company delivering commercial, energy and data center projects. We design and build projects for customers of all sizes. I was very excited about the opportunity, and it’s been a fantastic company to work for.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges?
One of the biggest challenges that I face in my particular role is getting the stakeholders, the people making decisions about what we’re going to use and not use, to understand the nuances of the latest technology. Getting all of those people to be on the same page—understanding the potential of a particular tool and seeing the benefit of bringing it into our environment for use in our day-to-day lives for everyone—is where I spend a lot of time working with others.
My role revolves around technology implementation and technology training. Typically, if I have a place where conflict is showing up, it’s because I’m not able to explain it in a way that appeals to the perspective of someone with a different background or expertise. It’s always a skill that I’m improving.
Would you mind sharing more about your experience and dedication to standardization?
I have a passion for creating standards and creating a level of consistency that makes people’s lives easier. I think standards are frequently forgotten. I’ve seen several companies with that common perception that we get handed over things from the design team and have to start with what they give us every time.
We’re in the day and age where we have owners that have their own BIM execution plans and requirements for data, what handover looks like, and what our builds look like. The challenge is figuring out how to adapt to that. It’s easy to say that every owner is different and we should start from scratch to meet their requirements. But why not build a program that promotes consistent deliverables to our teams installing out in the field? Building and implementing a set of standards addresses the most common requirements seen from clients across the company.
At the end of the day, my job is to manage standards and best practices for our BIM department. The BIM department’s job is to assist the field in a high-quality deliverable for the client. My personal goal is to help everyone in the process do their work more efficiently, and hopefully more enjoyably. By talking to people in the field and figuring out what can make their lives easier, our BIM team can start to build a set of guidelines, or standards, and we can continually build on these.
The more refined we can get, the more our people producing BIM work can save time and costs and implement new innovations.
The field also gets a clean and consistent install drawing deliverable from BIM every time, so they can focus on a safe and quality install, not on requesting additional information.
By taking the standards built to address client requirements and combining them with those built to help our co-workers in the field, we have a robust set of guidelines that create consistent, professional deliverables. This not only helps others, but helps us as BIM team members to be more efficient with our tasks and easily move between project teams as needed.
How have things changed for you and your team in the past year?
We’re already geographically spread out; our headquarters for CEI is in San Jose, California. We have a considerable number of projects across California, as well as several mega projects being built by our Data Center Division across the U.S. We already had remote work infrastructure and options in place before the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, we did have to work with our IT team to get a few more hosts set up for people working remotely who were originally in our larger, networked California offices.
At CEI, we have several offices that are skilled with BIM 360. The software has been a key tool for our QA/QC and commissioning efforts. Commissioning is a major part of electrical construction, and BIM 360 has been integral in helping us with tracking the process. With many more people working from home, we were also able to redistribute some of our local models to BIM 360 Document Management/Model Collaboration and work directly in the cloud. Overall, our team was able to keep full production levels the entire time.
What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women entering the industry?
I would say do the thing. Whatever it is, that you want to do, if you want to get into AR and VR, do it. If it’s IoT, do it. If it’s standards, or data, or training, do the thing. Play with those tools. Many people look at me like I’m crazy when I talk about how I got to where I’m at, but a lot of it has just been because I was passionate about standards and implementation and others recognized that.
Do what you’re passionate about. I started in warehousing, went into the motorcycle industry, and then on to construction. I just kept trying things until I found what I really liked. I went to community college for eight years, I worked full time, and took classes on the side. I didn’t try for a degree-I just kept taking classes to see what I enjoyed.
I struggled for a long time with finding a job that was fulfilling. But today, I would not trade my job for anything. I absolutely love it, and it’s my passion. I am passionate about BIM and standards, and about helping make people’s day-to-day work easier. At the end of the day, you do what you’re passionate about, because no matter how hard it might get, you’ll keep coming back to it.